Parker: Still many challenges ahead for Wright State University

A while back, I publicly wrote about my thoughts pertaining to Wright State University’s plight in dealing with the fiscal woes created by numerous mistakes by the previous top management. The new administration and Board had to make some “tough love” decisions over the last 16 months in an effort to “right the ship”. However, it seems to me there is still yet much to do and officials need the help of everyone who is part of the Wright State family.

Phil Parker, president & CEO, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce

In full disclosure, I must share my personal and professional bias about Wright State. My wife graduated from Wright State; so did my daughter, son-in-law, and son … all proud graduates of our local university. That does not include hundreds of friends, their kids and other family members who did too. I also support the university because of its critical mission to provide our community with an educated and motivated workforce. As a metropolitan university, we know that most of the graduates and attendees are local and they stay local. So much for disclosure.

Wright State’s former leadership poorly controlled the university’s spending to the level that they exhausted $130 million in reserves and left the university with a $30 million budget deficit. Big changes had to be made university-wide. After months of negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement with the Wright State faculty union, there are still at least half a dozen points of contention. Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code §4117, a mandated fact-finding report was completed on October 29, 2018. The university Board of Trustees approved the findings of the report and through public documents and meetings, it is my understanding that the issue of layoffs (retrenchment), an appropriate faculty concern is something that the university has indicated it is willing to forego. The faculty union did not approve the report as presented by the mutually agreed-upon neutral third party. So now, there are still issues that need to be addressed by both parties in order to move forward. But the union that represents some of the university faculty has now threatened to strike.

A strike at our leading public institution serves no purpose when we all know what has caused the previous problems. Votes of no confidence, walkouts or bad-faith negotiations must not continue. The university board, management, faculty and union must all work together over these next few weeks and months to hammer out an agreement that supports a plan that will correct not only the fiscal problems, but also the recruitment, morale and public image of an institution that is just too valuable to our community to let slide further from the enrollment of more than 18,000 in 2015 to the current downward-spiraling trend of 15,500 in 2018-19.

In addition, the faculty union is pursuing binding arbitration against the university for removing the provost involved in the H-1B visa debacle several years ago and asking that his termination as a faculty member be reversed even after the university recently had to agree to a $1 million payout to the federal government to settle the issue. This same union has cried out for accountability, but still wants the past provost reinstated as a faculty member. The hypocrisy of it all is beyond me as is any logic by the business community, donors and I would guess alumni. This hole that was dug over a period of years before President Schrader came aboard just keeps getting deeper and must be fixed.

Further controversy won’t help, certainly not by a public strike or the rehiring of former problematic management. The bad news needs to get behind us in the rear-view mirror so the university can drive forward in the right direction. Our Wright State students deserve better than this. We as Ohio citizens, public taxpayers and supporters deserve better too.

Phillip L. Parker, CAE, CCE
President and CEO
Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce

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